As Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Ends, One Formerly Abused, Discharged Sailor Wants to Re-Enlist

Courtesy: Joseph Christopher Rocha
The U.S. military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is officially repealed today.

OutServe magazine is marking the occasion with this poignant photo feature called “101 Faces of Courage,” described by the publication this way:

The following 101 photos represent the approximately 70,000 currently serving LGBT military personnel. We serve in every country, in every conflict, and in every career field. We serve because we are committed to our country. We serve to protect those we love. We serve because we are dedicated to this self-evident truth — that all men are created equal. This is who we are.

Yesterday KQED’s Mina Kim talked to San Francisco resident Joseph Rocha, discharged from the Navy four years ago after writing a letter affirming that he was gay. Now, with the repeal in effect, he is applying for re-enlistment.

In 2009, Rocha chronicled the abuse he experienced in the Navy in a Washington Post op-ed. But before that, he spoke on-air about his experience on KQED Radio’s Perspective, and it makes for chilling listening. Listen below or read an edited transcript after the audio.

Joseph Rocha:

After a rough childhood I dedicated my life to public service starting in the military. I had no idea at the time that every one of my major military accomplishments, including acceptance to the US naval academy, would be overshadowed by my sexuality.

While stationed in the Middle East, the men in my units spent lots of time with prostitutes. My refusal to partake was reason enough for my peers to accuse me day in and out of being gay.

Once, I was hogtied to a chair, rolled across the base, and left in a dog kennel with feces. I was forced to simulate sex acts on camera to armed service memebers with trained attack dogs in rteh room. Men with hoses sprayed me down in full uniform.

Being subject to extreme humiliation by my own military leadership, I did not feel hatred. I felt fear. Fear they would hurt me and no one back home would ever know. I had no gay friends to talk with and no gay personal life. I was only 18 years old and I was afraid if I told anyone I ‘d be kicked out for being gay.

Eventually someone a rank above me reported it. An investigation found dehumanizing pranks against me were habitual. I was preparing to testify when I got a call from a navy attorney telling me the case was dropped. So all I had to show for my abuse was a two-inch packet of investigative findings and post-traumatic stress disorder.

After three-and-a-half years in the Navy, including two-and-half in the Middle East, I resigned. My official statement to the Navy reads in part:

“I am homosexual. I am proud of my service, and had hoped I’d be able to serve the Navy and country for my entire career. However the principles of honor, courage and commitment mean I must be honest with myself, courageous in my beliefs, and committed to my course of action. I understand this statement will be used to end my naval career.”

I told, and I was discharged.

Here’s a Youth Radio video interview with Rocha from 2009 as well:

So after that type of abuse, why would Rocha want to re-up? Mina Kim asked him yesterday:

Mina Kim After the treatment you suffered, why do you want to go back?

Joseph Rocha Well, it’s quite clear to me that that was just a series of unfortunate events, if you will.

I got caught up in a small unit that has a documented history of that kind of abuse and hazing — straight or gay — that just, kind of, perpetuated or allowed for that kind of behavior.

And I am very confident and comfortable going back in, knowing that neither was that treatment, or that unit, reflective of the Navy or the Armed Services as a whole.

Polls have shown wide support for ending the policy, which prevented openly gay and lesbian troops from serving in the military.

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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